Monday, September 29, 2008

Southern Liberalism at the Public Library

On Sunday, September 28th the Russell Library hosted, “Highlander Folk School & the Southern Front: Worker Education and the Growth of the Civil Rights Movement,” at the Athens-Clarke County Public Library. Speakers at this event, the second in the Weaving the Threads of Justice program series, examined the roots of Highlander Folk School and its co-founders, Myles Horton and Don West.

Guest speaker Dr. Randy Patton, Professor of History at Kennesaw State University, began the program by setting the scene for the audience – describing the climate of southern liberalism from the decade of Highlander’s founding (1930s) and into the Civil Rights Movement.

Noted historian Dr. Jim Lorence followed, using Dr. Patton’s talk as the backdrop for a more focused discussion on Don West, the lesser-known co-founder of the Highlander School. Although Lorence’s talk remained centered on West’s role at Highlander and his tumutumultuous relationship with Myles Horton, the author’s most recent publication,
A Hard Journey: The Life of Don West, expounds on the long and varied life of West – a highly controversial social activist. Following the program, audience members mingled with the speakers at an informal reception and Dr. Lorence generously signed copies of his book.

Another successful event -- Thanks to everyone who attended! Next on the agenda, "Seeing Red in Black: White Southern Leaders Fight Desegregation" – a multimedia presentation by Jill Severn & Craig Breaden of the Russell Library – this coming Sunday, October 5th from 3-5pm at the Demosthenian Hall, North Campus, University of Georgia. Following what is sure to be a great presentation at a fantastic venue (with delicious snacks & drinks as always) .

Mingling at the Reception....

Friday, September 26, 2008

Coping with the Cost of Health Care

On Thursday, September 25th UGA students, staff, and faculty, together with citizens from the surrounding community turned out to discuss the rising cost of healthcare at the Russell Library. This event was the second forum in the Georgia Deliberations Fall Forum Series.

Jill Severn, who manages civic engagement and outreach work for the Russell Library, and UGA student Ellyn Echols served as moderators for the discussion. Echols said a few words about her involvement in the Roosevelt Institution, a student think-tank on campus devoted to researching and writing public policy, before laying out the ground rules for the discussion and helping the crowd to express their stakes in the issue at hand. Will Riley, a Georgia Tech student, commuted from Atlanta to serve as the scribe-recorder, while UGA students Matt Brandenbugh and Kelly Ann Frizzell served as official observers.

Like the forum at the Carter Library (9/17/08), this discussion focused on the pros and cons of three approaches to solving the problems of the current U.S. health care system. But the makeup of the attendees and their comments varied from the event in Atlanta. The group was split evenly between men and women -- the majority composed of students and a sprinkling of young professionals. Although several participants made frequent remarks, no one dominated the conversation and most everyone chimed in at least once.

Notable Moments in the Deliberation:

  • One returning participant, a retired government manager for unemployment insurance, suggested that businesses should play a larger role in coverage costs for employees.
  • An extended discussion regarding the need for increased preventative care led to a series of questions about the rising cost of medical services and the declining number of general practitioners. When asked why basic medical services cost so much, the crowd was largely silent and pensive.
  • Several participants heavily favored the approach championing universal health care, emphasizing that all Americans should have access to a basic level of health care.
  • At the evening’s conclusion a few attendees remarked that the current economic crisis will put health care on the back burner in the coming elections, but inevitably there will have to be changes in the system

The next public forum, “Pathways to Prosperity: Choosing a Future for Your Community” will be held on next Tuesday, September 30th from 7:00-9:00pm at the Agirama in Tifton, GA. For more information on this, and other upcoming public forums, please visit Russell Library homepage or call (706) 542-5788.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Healthcare Forum at Carter Library

On Wednesday, September 17th a dedicated contingent of students, faculty, and staff associated with the Russell Forum for Civil Life in Georgia traveled to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta to co-host the first forum in the statewide Georgia Deliberations Fall Forum Series. The forum focused on weighing strategies for coping with the rising costs of health care.

The forum at the Carter library drew a crowd of almost sixty people who turned out to deliberate this issue on a rainy Wednesday afternoon—a sure sign of the issue’s growing significance. Tony Clark, of the Jimmy Carter Library, welcomed the enthusiastic group and Jill Severn, who manages civic engagement and outreach work for the Russell Library shared some details about the national forum initiative and the nine upcoming forums in Atlanta, Athens, Albany, and Tifton. Dr. Margaret Holt, who is retired from the UGA faculty, and Matt Garrett, who works in student affairs at Emory, co-moderated the forum. Jill Severn served as the scribe-recorder for the event and Matt Brandenburgh, a senior physics major at UGA served as the official observer. Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist at the Russell Library also attended the forum and oriented participants as they arrived.

The forum focused on weighing the pros and cons and the tradeoffs and tensions associated with three approaches for addressing the problems associated with the current U.S. healthcare system. “Considering how divisive the issue of health care has been in the past and currently, the comments from forum participants were remarkably non-partisan,” commented moderator Margaret Holt. Participants expressed diverse opinions to the approaches, but invested great energy in listening to one another and remaining open to changing their perspectives. At the close of the meeting, many in the group remarked that they felt a real energy among the participants to begin to tackle component problems associated with health care as first steps in dealing with the issue as a whole. The tenor of the discussion and the great turnout also made many hopeful that civil civic life was alive and well in Atlanta. Indeed, many participants expressed plans to return to the Carter Library for the two upcoming forums (energy challenges, Thursday, October 2nd at 3 p.m. and the future mission of education, Monday, October 13th at 3 p.m.) or even to venture to one of the other forums that will be held in Athens and Tifton throughout this fall. After wrapping things up around 5:00 pm, the moderating team celebrated success with a good meal at Manuel’s Tavern – and then headed home to Athens just before dark.

The next public forum in the series, “Coping with the Cost of Healthcare” will be held at the Russell Library next Thursday, September 25th from 7:00-9:00pm. For more information on this, and other public forums, please visit or call (706) 542-5788.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Highlander Folk School Exhibit Opening

September 14th marked the opening of the Russell Library’s newest exhibit and program series, Weaving the Threads of Justice: The Highlander Center, 1932-2007. Guest speaker Dr. Helen Lewis captivated the audience with tales of the Highlander Folk School. Moving through the School’s history, Lewis reminded the crowd that society faces many of the same challenges today that existed at the time of Highlander’s founding in 1932. She spoke of her experiences as a staff member (1977-1997) and moved seamlessly into an introduction of the documentary film You Got to Move, which addressed Highlander’s role in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Following the film screening, visitors were treated to some Appalachian fare – ham biscuits, apple pie, and other light snacks – before touring the exhibit gallery.

The event was a great success! And we look forward to seeing everyone at our next program, Highlander Folk School & the Southern Front: Worker Education & the Civil Rights Movement on Sunday, September 28th at the Athens Regional Public Library.

Speaker Helen Lewis